On the night of Saturday, November 3, 2018 into the wee hours of the morning of Sunday, November 4, I had the pleasure of experiencing my first official paranormal investigation at the Old Joliet Prison, courtesy of the paranormal investigation groups Chicago Hauntings and the Joliet Paranormal Society as well as the Joliet Area Historical Museum. My friend Edward and I joined 48 hearty souls for the 5-hour-long investigation, including renowned psychic medium (featured on the long-running Travel Channel series, Ghost Adventures) Chris Fleming, who happens to be a Chicago native.
The night was horrendous in terms of the weather, with a steady downpour of freezing rain and temps dipping into the upper 30s. As the buildings we would be investigating in the vast prison complex (which dates back to 1858; incidentally, the youngest male prisoner, I would find out, was a 10-year-old boy) had no electricity nor heat and had endured years of neglect and vandalism since the prison’s closure in 2002, we were instructed to dress warmly and to bring our own flashlights. I decided to bring a digital audio recorder and 35 mm camera loaded with infrared film to hopefully capture my own evidence of paranormal activity.
Long-time readers of this blog will know that my main religious cultic practices entail worshiping Chthonic Deities and working with spirits of the human dead. Before I obtained my Ifá initiation 9 years ago and began mediumship training with an Espiritismo spirit medium, I had the unfortunate tendency to get jumped by spirits. A lot. They would latch onto me from a variety of places: local cemeteries and funeral homes, local forest preserves and beaches on Lake Michigan, and especially historical sites located in other parts of the country like Jamestown, Virginia. Within weeks, the adverse effects of the spirits’ presences could definitely be measured in terms of my declining health as well as spikes in paranormal activity at home. I’ve known since childhood that spirits were attracted to my energy, and as an adult Polytheistic Pagan Priestess, I know they’re especially attracted to my ritual energy, but I had to undergo so many spiritual cleansings in the past few years until my own spiritual self-protection regimen graduated to the robust, nearly unassailable level that it is today.
Thus, my paranormal investigation preparation began days before Edward came to pick me up and whisk me away to Joliet. I had just ended a week of Samhain ritual celebrations, both public and private; indeed, the day before the investigation, I had led a public ritual Mass on All Souls’ Day in honor of La Santa Muerte, one of my major Holy Powers. I knew my spirits of my ancestors were present in this earthly plane of existence because I had called to them. They knew what I would be undertaking, and they all, my brother in particular, would have my back. Of that I was certain. I had visions of La Santa Muerte Blanca and Hekate Khthonia, assuring me that They would keep all negative spirits of the human dead far, far from my person during the paranormal investigation. Hence I was completely confident that no wayward spirits were going to attach themselves to me and follow me home from Old Joliet Prison. Still, I made sure to chalk myself up with cascarilla and douse myself with Florida Water while praying prayers of protection before leaving home the night of November 3; I wore my Ifá elekes as well as my rosary in honor of La Santa Muerte Blanca. For extra measure, I performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram both at home and in the parking lot of Old Joliet Prison as soon as Edward parked his car! (We were the first guests to arrive, so I didn’t feel self-conscious about doing ceremonial magic in public.)
Honestly, all my cheerful childhood memories of seeing Old Joliet Prison featured in the iconic film The Blues Brothers (1980) were completely obliterated by the living reality of the foreboding, imposing structure that towered before me, a prison complex whose limestone walls encased decades of human pain and suffering. As with so many other paranormal investigators’ reactions to haunted locations, I simultaneously experienced profound revulsion and an indescribably intense attraction to the site. As the rain began to beat down upon us, Edward and I waited for the tour organizers by the main gate with its castle-like facade; it was the entrance to the old prison wardens’ ward and sleeping quarters. As I gazed up at the broken windows, I honestly had the acute sensation that someone was inside and was intently watching me. It was an unnerving feeling. I extracted my electromagnetic frequency (EMF) detector from my backpack purse, turned it on, and began walking towards the right side of the wardens’ former entrance. I actually documented a spike at 9:28 p.m. in EMF levels from 0 to 1.3 MG (milligauss). And the investigation hadn’t even officially begun yet! As we continued to wait for the others to arrive, Edward and I wandered around and took lots of pictures. You can get a sense of the foreboding nature of the grounds and the secrets the stones still keep.
The investigators Edward and I met from both Chicago Hauntings and the Joliet Paranormal Society and the historians on hand from the Joliet Area Historical Museum were all really nice and welcoming folks. They were happy to hear that this was our first investigation; the historians in particular were a treat to chat with, especially about serial killers and similar grisly topics that Edward and I have a keen interest in. Around 9:30, we were all welcomed into a little outdoor building in front of the wardens’ quarters, wherein we were served a hearty pizza dinner and cans of pop or bottles of water to take with us. Special guest star Chris Fleming arrived for a bit of a meet and greet, and we learned that he would be dividing his time in the course of the lengthy investigation with all four amateur groups that we would be divided into: groups 1-4. I was the first to spot his arrival and I greeted him nonchalantly but warmly: we wound up discussing my haunted Chicago neighborhood of Dunning. Chris actually asked me if I had any problems with spirits in my condo, as he knew about the mass paupers’ graveyard. As several people had gathered around to hear our discussion, I kept my answer brief: “I did have a problem with one spirit in particular in 2014, and that lasted for a few months. But he’s long gone, and I’ve stepped up my spiritual hygiene regimen since then.”
“Good!” Chris beamed.
I asked him about what he does in terms of spiritual protection, especially before he goes out on an investigation. He told me that every morning when he awakens from sleep, he calls down the light of the Divine and he bathes in it as a form of spiritual armor. That’s it.
“No matter where I’m going or what I’m doing, I know I’m protected. Whether I’m going on an investigation or not, God sees me and is there to protect me. God knows what level of protection I need,” he told me. He did add that he does call upon the Archangel Michael when he knows that he’s in a space “poisoned by demonic energy.” And as I would shortly find out, demonic energy certainly was present in the very first building we investigated: the indescribably creepy and derelict prison gymnasium, complete with its locker and shower rooms, two of which were documented murder sites of inmates by shankings in the late 1990s.
Edward and I lined up to be part of the 10-person team in Group 1, and we were happy to see that Chris Fleming opted to accompany us first before rotating time with the other three groups. We snaked our way around Collins Street to the entrance for prisoners. Illinois State Police were on hand to patrol the perimeter and ensure that no interlopers could accost us during the investigation. As soon as the massive iron gate was rolled shut behind us, effectively locking us in on the grounds until 2:30 a.m. Sunday, my heart sank into my stomach. The leaders of the four investigative groups briefly met among themselves to confirm the assignment of groups to the four main locations of the complex that we would be investigating, and how the hours of the night would be divided by each. Feeling like a child at school, I marched alongside Edward and our leaders of Joliet Paranormal Society investigators plus a historian from the Museum, with Chris Fleming just behind with his small entourage of umbrella- and equipment-toting assistants. We entered the gymnasium building.
Building #1: The Old Joliet Prison Gymnasium
We made a beeline past the shower and locker rooms and weight-lifting room and arrived in the middle of a very dilapidated but immense basketball court. Signs of recent vandalism, such as a fire pit’s charred remains in the middle of the court, were evident. Disturbingly, a flattened-out basketball lay amidst the rubble as well. I was expecting it to move of its own accord the more that I stared at it out of nervousness. We had to be careful where we trod: broken glass was everywhere; it crunched under the soles of my boots.
Even though it was obvious we were the only people present, I had the feeling that we were being watched: spirits in the rafters, spirits lining the walls and the bleachers. What were they thinking of our incursion into their space?
Chris took charge of the investigation, inviting anyone else who had brought their own equipment to power it on now, as we were going to have our first group electronic voice phenomena (EVP) session. I whipped out my EMF detector, which also has environmental sensors to record the temperature, and my digital recorder and began recording, noting that the temperature in Fahrenheit had dropped three degrees since we began standing in the basketball court.
Chris began addressing the spirits, immediately demanding to know how many “imps” there were sitting above us in the rafters, for he had zeroed in on them as soon as we’d set foot in the basketball court! I had no doubt about the veracity of his clairvoyance, as the immense feeling of dread that I had experiencing could very well have been attributed to nonhuman entities.
We did a 10-minute EVP session and did live playback. Disturbingly, I heard more than once the sound of a metal rod clanging several feet away from us on the floor, as if someone were throwing a crowbar on the floor in frustration. Believe me, when you’re standing there in pitch blackness, it was hard not to jump out of fright. There were no animals inside and certainly no other people so we had no way of explaining what the source of those sounds was.
We then decided to move into two different large locker rooms, and it was immediately upon entering the second of the two rooms that I had a clairvoyant experience of my own, which caused me to nearly fall backwards because the fear made me slip on the broken glass on the floor. I heard the word “SLAUGHTER” go off in my head like a sonic boom and I actually saw it written in blood above the entrance to the second locker room. I tugged on Chris’s coat sleeve and reported what I had just seen and heard. He took me seriously and asked his assistant to hand him the SB-11 spirit box device so we could perform a different type of spirit communication session immediately. “Four” was the answer to Chris’ question of “how many spirits are here?”
What spirit voices can you hear in this 9-minute-long SB-11 spirit box session?
We had some time allotted to us to explore the vast space on our own and do our own EVP sessions, which was exactly what I tried to do by myself. In fact, that would be a recurring theme of mine for the evening: breaking away from the group and going into the darkest, scariest places by myself in the hopes of getting documentation of spirit activity.
Building #2: The Solitary Confinement Cell Blocks
I felt very excited at the prospect of sitting in actual solitary confinement unit prisoners’ cells. We were warned to not close any of the cell doors behind us, as they would lock and no one had keys! We were told we would have the misfortune of remaining behind bars until Monday if we accidentally locked ourselves into any of the cells. I took the cautions to heart and allowed myself to explore on my own each cell. While foreboding overall, each of the cells seemed to have very different energetic imprints.
I kept returning to cell number 7. It had the ghastliest energy, the most pain exuding from its walls and even the ceiling. I sat on the metal frame of what used to be the prisoner’s bed. I felt a coldness that transcended the mere physical; as with the prison overall, it simultaneously repulsed and attracted me. I would wrench myself out of the cell and go down the main hallway to where the others in Group 1 were gathered, doing a group EVP session, only to find myself sneaking back to cell 7.
Eventually, the distinct features of a white man’s lanky face with pointed chin appeared to me out of the darkness. He had curly red hair and flashing hazel eyes. He was tormented, for sure, and he liked to torment. I wanted to make contact with him badly. He was having an effect on me, for sure, as the selfie below, taken at 12:37 a.m. on November 4, attests. I felt my personality change, my mood grow incredibly dark.
After about 20 minutes or so of my individual attempts to make contact with the spirit that I was seeing, the lead paranormal investigator for this leg of the investigation led the rest of Group 1 into cell 7, announcing that this cell bore witness to the last documented suicide of a prisoner just before the prison closed in 2002. No wonder I found the atmosphere so compelling; spirits of suicides receive extra special ritual attention in my Pagan ministry.
Before launching into an SB-11 spirit box session, the lead investigator (his team also used dowsing rods to communicate with the spirits) brought out his digital audio recorder and asked us all, around the room, to ask questions to the last known occupant of this cell. You can hear me at the very end, asking if the deceased had red curly hair.
This male spirit wasn’t very forthcoming. The entire night would feel like that to me: an acute awareness of being surrounded by spirits, both human and otherwise (i.e., demonic), all of whom kept their distance. Was I not being approached because of the powerful spiritual wards I’d erected around my personhood? Is this why things lurked in the shadows, but never really “outed” themselves in the fullness of their being/horror to me? I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or dismayed.
Building #3: The Infirmary
This building definitely brought season 2 of American Horror Story: Asylum to mind. I wondered about all kinds of grisly experiments performed on unknowing or unwilling prisoners. It also brought the memory of a childhood adventure roaring back into the forefront of my consciousness: When I was 13 years old, in the summer of 1987, one of my neighborhood friends and classmates, a wicked girl named Kelly, goaded me into sneaking into the ruins of the abandoned Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium with her one July afternoon. As I look back on that day, I thank my lucky stars that no harm befell us from either the gang members dealing drugs in the main hallway to the homeless junkies getting high on crack in the basement. We nonchalantly passed them all by, chatting away in the darkened rooms, neither of us even having the sense to have brought flashlights with us. We did find a lot of X-Rays of former patients’ lungs strewn all over the floors of the bedrooms and the infirmary, and we would hold up the X-Rays to the windows to try and see, amateur radiologists that we were, how advanced each patient’s case of TB was.
I was hoping to have had a similar romp in this building, but, disappointingly, we were told that we could only explore the first floor. The building was the oldest on the grounds, dating back to 1858, and it was structurally unsound to a dangerous level.
Flights of stairs and even a couple of support beams had collapsed into ruin. My heart sank, as I was sure the third floor was teeming with ghosts. Unlike the TB sanatarium of my youth, this infirmary was picked clean of anything fun to explore. The elevator shaft was another energetic hot spot that kept clamoring for my attention, and when I asked this shift’s lead investigator to comment on what his group knew about the history of this building he reported that a teenager who’d snuck in 10 years ago fell to his death when he was ambling about the elevator shaft in the dark; he’d gotten impaled on the cables.
I detected zero spirits in any of the exam rooms. The bathrooms were beyond disgusting.
Some of the graffiti, however, was amusing to look at.
I had profound feelings of disquietude overtake me as I stood outside the infirmary’s entrance. Behind me was a stretch of cell blocks adjacent to the wardens’ quarters, which we had seen from the parking lot as soon as we’d arrived. It was weird experiencing the energies of those areas with my back to them.
Furthermore, in the gap of ugly landscape separating the infirmary building from the west wall of the gymnasium, I sensed a lot of nonhuman spirit activity, like angry Elementals or some such thing. My friend Edward came over and commented on it, noting a profound sense of restlessness from the spirits, as did one of the volunteer historians who didn’t feel like setting foot inside the infirmary. He said that he was perceiving spirits leaping back and forth from the infirmary to the gym. Edward took a series of photos with his digital camera while I snapped away with my 35 mm infrared film, which I have still to develop. So these are the photos Edward took; do you get a sense of Otherworldly menace?
Feeling a little bored because I felt I was done with this space and I was impatient with the time it was taking for the rest of Group 1 to wrap up the investigation of the infirmary, I snuck away into the gymnasium and tried to get a solo EVP session going on my digital audio recorder, but I was busted and reprimanded by one of the Chicago Hauntings organizers, saying I must not depart from my group and go into any of the other buildings. When I protested, observing that the gymnasium was empty and therefore I would not have been interrupting any other group’s investigation, I was still ushered out. I felt the imps snickering in the rafters of the ceiling. At least I managed to snap a couple more photos of the graffiti surrounding the basketball court:
Building #4: Prison Cafeteria, Where I Was Abandoned!
The entrance to the cafeteria of the Old Joliet Prison belied its massive size (it had 3 levels) and labyrinthine structure. It was here that I began to experience the eerie phenomenon that veteran paranormal investigators relate of profound disorientation accompanied by missing time. It wasn’t just because this was the last leg of our nonstop five-hour investigation, that it was past 1 a.m., and that I was shivering in the cold (the downpour of freezing rain got heavier after 1 o’clock; given the strong winds, my clothes were soaked) and my feet were tired. It was because if the Old Joliet Prison has an energetic epicenter, where some kind of portal to nefarious nonhuman intelligences exists, it’s the goddamn cafeteria. Who knew?! And there we were, our boisterous group hushed itself into awed silence as boots began to crunch the surface of broken glass upon entry. You could feel a leaden weight of dread seep out of every surface of this space.
Anxiety jolted me into full alertness. So many corridors opened upon corridors opened upon corridors with disturbing rooms: meat hooks dangling from the ceiling of the walk-in freezer (I immediately thought of both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shining), gargantuan food pantries, locker rooms for the staff, food preparation spaces—including an infernal-looking pizza oven that looked as if it was ready to bake human beings—and the dining hall, which had become transmogrified into a rogues’ gallery of graffiti. We were given 5 minutes to acclimate to and explore the place on our own, and then we were supposed to reconvene by the pizza oven.
I decided to wander off into a room close to the main kitchen with the sinister pizza oven. I wanted to get some more solo EVP session time with my digital audio recorder but I didn’t want to be out of earshot once the group had reconvened with our lead investigator. Edward dashed off on his own, some people split into pairs, and I began to relish knowing I wouldn’t have other peoples’ voices “contaminate” my audio recording as background noise. I grew more and more uneasy with the room wherein I had been standing still and speaking into my recorder in total darkness, so after doing a live review of that initial session (I didn’t hear any spirit voices recorded), I began to open door upon door upon door and weave my way into a maze of subsets of hallways and more rooms, all of which had disturbing amounts of broken glass on their floors.
Led by the little shaft of light from my mini flashlight, I even came across a discarded pair of men’s work boots, several staff members’ aprons, and even an odd assortment of books about the legal profession. I couldn’t bring myself to touch any of it.
Eventually, I began to hear fewer and fewer voices of my fellow members of Group 1. Edward was nowhere to be seen. I tried to retrace my steps and found myself back in the main kitchen space, by the pizza oven, but there was only one man there. When I asked him if he had seen the others, he said that he hadn’t. I said this was a most curious situation. He said they had to be somewhere, and with that, he dashed off into the bowels of the building, leaving me standing by a broken window, where I could hear the splatter of the freezing rain strike against the stainless steel everything of my immediate environment.
What else was there for me to do but continue my solo investigation? This building was surely haunted, and when I extracted my EMF detector to give a sample reading in one of the food pantry rooms, I got the fright of my life as it sounded an alarm from a MAJOR spike in magnetic field disruption: 0 to 24.6 MG in just a nanosecond! The device kept flashing its orange light and wailing its alarm, which sounded like a car alarm. I honestly believed that a spirit in my vicinity was setting it off, and that I was in danger. Great danger. It was here that I began to panic for the very first time, and I desperately needed to be back in the safety of my group. But where the Devil had they gone?!
I started shouting for Edward as I lumbered my way around, thinking I was retracing my steps back to the main kitchen area but I was nowhere near it, in fact. I had no idea where I was. I wasn’t even sure if I was on the main floor anymore; had I ventured downstairs? My state of confusion grew even more pronounced: What day of the week was it? My head hurt.
I kept ambling my way around mindlessly, not sure if I was walking in a giant circle at that point. I don’t know how many minutes had passed since I’d discovered the group had abandoned me. I heard the sound of my boots crunching on broken glass and I heard the sound of the rain pouring, almost hissing as it struck the metal surfaces of the window frames and the kitchen equipment. The panic I formerly felt just seemed to have drained entirely out of my mind, like a plug had been pulled and it all washed out of me. What replaced it was a sense of lethargy and a resolute acceptance that I was utterly alone in the cafeteria building and the rest of my group had left me, was okay with leaving me. How did Edward not notice—not care—that I wasn’t around? I was too lethargic to feel bitter.
I eventually found my way back to the pizza oven and reasoned that I should just do another EVP session since I was alone in total darkness. Take advantage of my solitude. So that’s exactly what I did.
After making that recording and doing an immediate live review, I decided to walk outside onto the front steps and see if anyone from my group was around. I saw nothing and no one anywhere on the grounds at all, period. Not wishing to get even more soaked than I already was, I decided to reenter the cafeteria and continue my solo investigation, perhaps by finding the main stairwell to go to the second floor. I snaked my way back through the maze of somewhat familiar corridors and rooms, until I’d been rewarded with the mother lode of a graffiti gallery: the prisoners’ mess hall.
Some of the artists were very good, indeed. Someone clearly had a penchant for spray painting characters from The Simpsons:
What others lacked in talent, they made up for with the persistent repetition of their tagging.
I finally found the colossal stairwell that led to the upper levels but I found myself paralyzed with a sudden terror that overwhelmed me. I shone my flashlight high to the top of the landing above me, asking if anyone was there. I took several deep breaths and tried lifting my right leg to begin ascending the steps but I realized I couldn’t. I “saw” that there were three demons stationed at various points on the stairwell.
“ANNA! ANNA!” I heard Edward’s frantic voice shouting from what I thought was in the darkness above me.
I clutched the stairwell’s railing and leaned forward, shining my light as high as I could onto the second floor.
“Edward, is that you?” I whimpered. Every fiber in my being answered that it wasn’t, and that I needed to turn back. I stood frozen in terror for I don’t know how many minutes.
Then all of a sudden, I heard three men laughing in the empty mess hall behind me. They sounded jovial. They were three investigators from the Joliet Paranormal Society, as their glow-in-the-dark embroidery of their leather jackets proclaimed.
Edward followed, shining his flashlight on the graffiti-coated walls and aiming his camera to take more photos.
“EDWARD!” I shouted, relieved. I ran up to him.
“Oh hey, Anna,” he said, nonplussed. “Isn’t this building neat? I think it’s the best one of the four we’ve seen. Definitely the best graffiti. What do you think?”
“Weren’t you just upstairs? And were you frantically calling for me just now?” I asked, puzzled.
“Me? Upstairs? No. Where’s the stairs? I haven’t been to this part of the building yet,” he said.
“Well why didn’t you come looking for me once you saw that we were separated?” I asked with a flush of indignation. “I was terrified once I realized you guys had abandoned me. Or didn’t you notice?”
“Abandoned? I had no inkling that we’d ever gotten separated,” Edward replied. “I mean, I could have sworn I saw you, backpack and all, with everyone else on every stage of this cafeteria tour. I excused myself at one point to be able to find a bathroom because my bladder was on the verge of bursting, which meant I had to go all the way back to the parking lot area, but when I got back to the cafeteria, I swore I saw you with the rest of the group, but I know you’re mainly doing your thing, sneaking off to do the EVP sessions and so on, so I didn’t want to interfere.”
My head was swimming; nothing made sense. Of course it couldn’t. How could it? With demon sentries on stairwells mimicking the voice of my friend to get me to..to what? Cross a threshold that I shouldn’t? What would have happened to me, I wondered. Stairwell to Hell? But climbing up? Was Edward seeing my doppelgānger or something? I was snapped out of my reverie by the trio of the Joliet investigators: they were going to conduct an EVP session, and they asked if Edward and I wanted to join in. They insisted we all turn off our flashlights. I had no energy at that point but I acquiesced. I became aware once again of my feet throbbing with discomfort and of feeling thirsty and cold and very eager to go home and change into warm, dry pajamas and crawl into bed.
And that was the final event of the investigation. We were all herded out by the team of volunteers with their clipboards. It was close to 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning, the 4th of November, at this point. It was such a relief to see the State Police cranking open the iron gates to let us out of the prison grounds and back onto Collins Street: I felt like a heavy weight was being lifted off of my chest. One of the Joliet Paranormal Society investigators came to check in on Edward and me, asking us if we enjoyed our first investigation—hopefully, we did and we would like to attend future investigations. We both affirmed that we had an amazing time and that we absolutely would love to attend future investigations in the Chicago area and beyond. Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky is a must-investigate site for Edward and me, so who knows.
We were invited to join back with everyone at the small administrative building where our modest little pizza party began over 5 hours ago and to have more pizza or take some home with us, along with bottles of water for the road. I did accept the latter offer, but before climbing into Edward’s car, I fished out my bottle of Florida Water from my backpack and I did a mini Ifá spiritual cleansing ritual. I checked in, spiritually, with my Guides and Ancestors and asked if I would be okay: They assured me that no spirits, human or otherwise, had attached themselves to me. I would be just fine. I said a brief prayer of thanks.
I didn’t interact with Edward at all on the long drive back to my Chicago condo. No singing along to New Wave songs, no chit-chat, nothing. He was silent also. I think we were both internally processing the events of the past 5 hours.
I slept a solid 14 hours when I got home and crawled under the covers. I felt very much “out of it” the entire day of November 5 as well.
I have yet to develop my three rolls of infrared 35 mm film. I wonder if I’ve captured any images of spirits. In a way, I don’t need it as “proof” of what I already know to be true: Old Joliet Prison is teeming with paranormal activity.